October 17 in freethought history…

October 17, 1801 – Representatives of the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptists write a letter to President Thomas Jefferson. Recognizing that Jefferson had no legislative power, and that federal authority was limited with respect to the states, the Baptists, knowing of Jefferson’s advocacy for religious liberty, complained of their treatment as religious minorities by the dominant Congregationalists of Connecticut, emphasized their belief that religion was a purely personal matter and “that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors.” (Yes, these are BAPTISTS!) Their letter prompted a brief but favorable reply from Jefferson on January 1, 1802, in which he used the now famous phrase “a wall of separation between church and state.”

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